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Small Arms- Indigenous Development, Design & Production Capability Gap

Despite in-house requirement and assured orders, the design and production agencies have not been able to meet the huge requirement of Small Arms with Military and Paramilitary Forces, which has resulted in India spending billions of dollars on Small Arms import.

The Small Arms (SA) are the basic equipment with Defence Services including Coast Guard and the Paramilitary Forces, with inventory approximately 1.6 million and 1.3 million respectively. The present holding is heterogeneous with over 40-42 different types of Small Arms and majority of them being imported. Moreover, most of the present inventory is seen to be reaching obsolesce. Resultantly, the Armed Forces intend to replace these with new weaponry.

In India, the design and production of SA are mostly confined to the Government sector with DRDO being responsible for design and development while, Ordnance Factories (OFs) being responsible for production. Despite in-house requirement and assured orders, these design and production agencies do not have the capability for delivering the next generation of SA. The  inability to design, develop and manufacture contemporary equipment in the small arms sector have resulted in the Armed Forces for resorting to spending billions of dollars on Small Arms import year on year.

Noteworthy, till date the indigenous efforts by DRDO and OFB have been able to find limited success in Small Arms development like the TAR, the Ghatak (AK-47 replica), Modern Sub-Machine Carbine (MSMC) and the INSAS-1C which have attracted a handful of orders, but not enough to keep production at peak capacity of over 30,000 rifles per year. Some of the variants developed indigenously in the past few years are:-

  • Indigenously built 7.62 x 39 mm Ghatak assault rifles developed by DRDO which has been rejected by Army citing poor quality and ineffective fire power. However, some of these have been inducted by the Kerala State Police.
  • DRDO developed 5.56x45mm caliber Excalibur has failed too as it does not match the required parameters set by the Army. Though, it has been inducted but only as an interim assault rifle to fill the critical gap until a suitable replacement is found.
  • 62mm Trichy Assault Rifle and the INSAS-1C have attracted a handful of orders from Paramilitary Forces only.
  • AMOGH 5.56 mm Carbine which were specially designed and developed for Close Quarter Battle (CQB) role by OFB, was rejected by Army on its first trial.
  • MINSAS 5.56 mm personal carbine, a short barrel commando version, 5.56x30 mm ammunition, for close quarter battle use yet to be commissioned in Forces.
  • The Modern Sub Machine Carbine (MSMC) also known as Joint Venture Protective Carbine (JVPC) designed by the Armament Research and Development Establishment and manufactured by Ordnance Factory Tiruchirappalli. The Uzi-like design 50 MSMCs were issued for user trials in 2016. Army asked to do some improvements in the weapon on two pin disassembly, Quick fitting suppressor and polymer magazines etc. Once these things are taken care of, the weapon would be introduced in appropriate slot.

Joint Production of AK-203 Assault Rifles - A 'Make in India' initiative Facing De

Almost after 10 years since the Indian Army expressed its requirement to replace the currently being used INSAS assault rifles with a modern assault rifle, the Government finally narrowed down to Russian manufactured AK-203 (a variant of the Kalashnikov family of AK-100 rifles).  An Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA)  signed on February 18, 2019  and a joint venture company - Indo-Russian Rifles Pvt. Ltd. (IRRPL) between the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) owning the controlling stakes of 50.5% while and Russian partners - Kalashnikov and Rosonboronexport own 42% and 7.5% stake respectively - was formed for the manufacturing the rifle in India. The Ordnance Factory Board's Project Korwa in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh has been selected as the main JV partner who will manufacture the rifles. India will be the first country to which Russia would be transferring the design/manufacturing of this rifle.

The JV Company has been licensed to produce 6,71,427 AK-203 assault rifles worth Rs 12280 Crores chambered for 7.62×39 mm. About 1 lakh rifles will come directly from Russia and the remaining will be manufactured by the JV in India with each rifle costing close to $1000 each. The manufacturing of the AK-203 rifles in India is expected to boost the 'Make in India' initiative in defence manufacturing as it is aimed to achieve 100 percent indigenization of the rifle as per the project understanding, however, this target will be achieved within a span of 5 years. The project has already lingered and till date the production is yet to commence which was slated within 3-6 months after the facility was created on 3rd March 2019. This is owing to the fact that OFB and its Russian partner Kalashnikov till date are not able to present a reasonable pricing plan.

Procurement in Pipeline

As a follow up in Feb 2018, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) accorded approval to Capital Acquisition Proposals of the Services valued at around Rs 15,935 Crores. These includes:-

  • 4 lakh Assault Rifles for the three Services, at an estimated cost of Rs 12,280 Crores.
  • Indian Army has also started induction of 5,719 sniper rifles worth $150 Million which will be replacing the ageing Russian Dragunov SVD, the mainstay of Indian soldiers. The guns being given to the soldiers are the .338 Lapua Magnum Scorpio TGT by Italian company Beretta, and the .50 Calibre M95 by US Company Barrett.
  • 41000 Light Machine Guns for the three Services, for cost of over Rs 1,819 Crores. The DAC also cleared the procurement of an “essential quantity” of LMGs on fast track basis.

A Fast Track Procurement (FTP) for 72,400 SIG rifles for the three Armed Forces worth Rs 700 Crores deal with US arms-maker SIG Sauer for the 7.62×51 mm SIG716 is already in process with the entire consignment to be delivered within a year. In July 2020, the Government confirmed that it is going ahead with a repeat order of these rifles for the same quantity again under FTP.

The frequent import from different OEMs has resulted in mixed inventory putting enormous pressure on logistics. The products from different manufacturers have nothing in common in terms of ammunition, spares and training for performing similar security roles, thus making the Indian small arms inventory “a bowl of assorted weaponry”.

Further, a tender for 16,400 Nos. of 7.62 x 51mm Light Machine Gun (LMGs) under the FTP under 'Buy and Make (Indian)' Category with 'Buy' component as NIL have been issued by the Army. These will replace the in-service INSAS LMG that has a calibre of 5.56x45mm. Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) and South Korea's S&T Motiv and Arsenal have responded to the bids.

The projected the requirement of about 2,00,000 Carbine for Indian Army and a cumulative requirement of around 4,00,000 carbines for IAF, IN, CPF and State Police Forces . The Fast-Track procurement of 93,895 Close-Quarter-Battle Carbines (CQB) from UAE’s Caracal, a deal worth $553.33 Million (approx. Rs. 4000 Crores) is likely to be inked shortly. The 5.56×45 mm round carbines will replace the outdated and ageing 9mm British Sterling 1A1 sub machine guns that are in service.

Apart from these above mentioned procurements, the tentative wish list of Special Forces includes:

  • 715 Mk 48 Light Machine Guns (LMGs)
  • 1,050 FN Scar (H) 7.62×51 assault rifles
  • 1,400 FN Scar (L) or HK-416 assault rifles
  • 110 .50 Cal Browning heavy machine guns (HMG)
  • 100 Barret M107 A1 heavy sniping rifles
  • Urgent requirement of 20 million rounds of ammunition for the small arms

Private Sector in Small Arms Production

As of now, the private sector is primarily engaged in the manufacture of single and double-barrel and air rifles/pistols and supplying to OFB some of the subsystems. But, many private firms are now gearing up to enter the SA arena. One of the early companies to set up an arms manufacturing plant in India was PLR Systems in a tie-up with Israeli Weapons System (IWI) which currently manufactures number of small arms like the Tavor series in India along with others like the Galil sniper rifle, Uzi Pro submachine gun, Masada pistol and the Negev Light Machine Gun (LMG) with indigenous content ranging from 40-60 percent. Punj Lloyd originally held 51 percent shares in PLR Systems while the rest were with IWI. However, later on it was bought over by a company called Fouraces System India Private Limited. The JV is first Indian private sector company that started manufacturing small arms. Now, it will be also manufacturing two new Israel Weapons System (IWI) developed assault rifles Arad and Carmel under ‘Make in India’ initiative.

Bengaluru-based SSS Defence is another company in the domestic market. The company manufactures a sniper, assault rifle and light machine gun. The rifles are completely indigenously designed, with SSS Defence holding the Intellectual Property Rights for its design. Kalyani Group also works in the small arms market and has tie-ups with a foreign player for indigenous manufacturing for an Army contract bid besides some others. However, the need of the hour is to Government to encourage and incentivise the private sector entrants in the segment, in case it is keen to reduce import of basic equipment.

Market Size for Small Arms - A Lucrative Opportunity

Estimations depicts that the total projected requirements for Small Arms for the next 15 years is likely to be around 2 Million pieces and estimated to be worth USD 10-12 Billion, thus, offering lucrative opportunity to both public and private sector to tap.

Further, Small Arms have a life of approx. 20 years and taking the overall requirement of in hand SAs for the Military and Paramilitary Forces to be approx 3.0 million, we need a production capability of approximately 1.5 Lakhs per year for the replacement cycle to ensure that our Forces are always equipped with latest technology SAs. With an annual production capacity of approximately 0.90-1.0 Lakhs Small Arms of all types, the Ordnance Factories are unable to meet even the annual replacement requirement of the military, not counting the other civil requirements including Police Forces. Hence, there is scope for private sector to come in to fill the gap to the tune of 50% level to OFB production capacity.

Way Ahead

The lack of concerted effort and unrealistic Qualitative Requirements (QRs) coupled with lack of indigenous design has been the hallmark of procurement of the Small Arms systems severely affecting the modernization. Resultantly, most of the inventory of Small Arms is of obsolete design and requires immediate replacement. The technology involved in manufacturing of Small Arms is neither critical nor a rocket science. Indian industry can very well take it on with partnership with OEMs which are ready for partnership/ToT. The Government talks about focusing on ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbartha’. But when domestic industry is gearing up in offering rifles, the focus is still on procuring them from abroad or through JV with foreign OEM. The need of the hour is that Government should stop going for emergency purchases or FTP cases of Small Arms and rather should encourage private sector to come forward which have proved their mettle in past.

Also, there is a need for standardising the inventory as the frequent imports of SAs from different OEMs has not only resulted in mixed inventory but also have put enormous pressure on logistics. The products from different manufacturers have nothing in common in terms of ammunition, spares and training for performing similar security roles, thus making the Indian small arms inventory “a bowl of assorted weaponry”. Manufacturing small quantity of ammunition for the assorted inventory may not be cost effective and hence will have to be imported. We need to have inter-operability (similar calibre & ammunition) of weapons across the defence and paramilitary forces. In case the above procurements fructify the standardisation of our SA calibre and ammunition will reduce the overall logistics.

Further, the Government should also resort to adoption of Public-Private Partnership model for Small Arms manufacturing for current technology. This will not only promote indigenisation but would also create the much needed defence industrial base and generate economic spin-offs. Of course, the necessary security and regulatory provisions can be insisted. Despite the concern the effort to ramp up domestic Small Arms production is a step in the right direction to make the Armed Forces more self-reliant for equipment and is critical for a country seeking to play a larger strategic role.

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